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To Investigate the Chemistry Misconceptions of Preservice Chemistry Teachers in a University in the Mid-West of Ireland

To Investigate the Chemistry Misconceptions of Preservice Chemistry Teachers in a University in the Mid-West of Ireland

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Muireann Sheehan. Originally submitted for Final Year Project at University of Limerick, with lecturer Dr. Peter Childs in the category of Teacher Education
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Muireann Sheehan. Originally submitted for Final Year Project at University of Limerick, with lecturer Dr. Peter Childs in the category of Teacher Education

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 29, 2012
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To Investigate the Chemistry Misconceptions of Preservice ChemistryTeachers in a University in the Mid-West of Ireland
 The quality of teachers has been found to have a significant impact on the success of educationalsystems (Barber & Mourshed 2007) and on the academic success of learners (Sanders andRivers 1996). The production, therefore, of highly competent teachers with a solidunderstanding of the fundamental concepts of chemistry is required in order to produce aneducation system which serves the needs of its learners. The presence of chemicalmisconceptions in pupils in secondary education (Kind 2004; Peterson and Treagust 1989;Schmidt 1997; Sheehan 2010), undergraduate students (Cakmakci 2010; Kelly
et al.
2010;Mulford and Robinson 2002), science graduates (Coll and Treagust 2003; Taber 2000),preservice science teachers (Calik and Ayas 2005; Kerr
et al.
2006; Tan and Taber 2011) andqualified teachers (Kruse and Roehrig 2005; Kikas 2004) have been widely reported in othercountries. Learners operating at the formal operational stage of cognitive development, asdescribed by Piaget, have been found to have more success at chemistry and a deeperunderstanding of the subject (Bunce and Hutchinson 1993). Studies have linked development of cognitive ability with increases in mathematical ability and age. Gender has also been reportedas a significant factor in these studies, with male learners showing increased cognitivedevelopment compared to female learners of the same age (Shayer and Adey 1981; Sheehan2010). Misconceptions are known to be resistant to change through traditional means of teaching (Mulford and Robinson 2002; Peterson and Treagust 1989) and require direct targeting in order to be addressed (Thomaz
et al.
1995; Wood and Breyfogle 2006).Recent studies in Ireland (McCormack 2009; Sheehan 2010) found that chemistrymisconceptions are widespread among Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate pupils.Typically Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate pupils are aged 14-15 and 16-18 years of age,respectively. In order to address this problem, teachers must be prepared to turn the findings of research on chemistry misconceptions into practice. Teachers must also have a soundunderstanding of fundamental chemistry concepts and possess relatively few misconceptionsthemselves.
There are two models of teacher education in place in Ireland through which prospectivescience teachers may enter the profession: a concurrent model and a consecutive model. Theconcurrent model involves a four year degree programme in both science and education. In theconsecutive model, graduates of science complete a Higher Diploma in Education. Theconcurrent model of science teacher education is in place in a university in the mid-west of Ireland which took part in this study, referred hereafter as ‘university X’ or ‘our university’. As isthe case in many institutions, the mode of instruction in place in the ‘university X’ is a traditionallecture style which has been found to emphasise lower order cognitive skills such as recall
2(Zoller 1993). The misconceptions of preservice chemistry teachers are, therefore, not directlyaddressed and may persist throughout their four years of concurrent science and teachereducation. A study was conducted in order to identify the number and type of chemistrymisconceptions held by preservice chemistry teachers in ‘our university’. Based on a review of the literature the following research questions were identified:1.
What chemistry misconceptions do preservice chemistry teachers hold?2.
Is there a link between these misconceptions and gender, age or course studied?3.
Are the misconceptions present in the first year of preservice teachers’ chosen course of study altered over the course of four years of formal study?4.
Is there a link between the number of misconceptions and previous school experience of chemistry and mathematics?
This study began with the hypothesis that, like students in other countries and institutions, ourpreservice chemistry teachers would have misconceptions in chemistry.Common chemistry misconceptions were identified based on a review of the literature. It wasdecided that the Leaving Certificate syllabus should provide the basis for a framework whichwould allow the misconceptions to be categorised. The Chemistry Misconceptions IdentificationInstrument was designed to test what the author, in consultation with her supervisor,considered to be the most fundamental concepts in the Leaving Certificate syllabus usingappropriate conceptual questions from the literature. A number of author-developed questionswere used in cases where no appropriate question could be obtained from the literature. Theinstrument was reviewed both internally and externally by experts. It consisted of twenty-onequestions and tested the conceptual areas shown in Table 1. Question 2 was broken up intothree separate questions for the purposes of marking the instrument, as it assessed threedifferent conceptual areas.
Table 1: List of Concepts & Questions included in the Chemistry Misconceptions IdentificationInstrument 
Concept Area Subtopic(whererelevant)Question No. Concept(s) beingtestedSource of QuestionsParticulate Natureof Matter
AtomicStructureQ7 Factors influencingionisation energiesTaber (2003); Tan &Taber 2009)ChemicalFormulae &EquationsQ5, Q6, Q11 Meaningfulconversions fromsymbolic tomicroscopicMulford & Robinson(2002)Phase Change Q3 Understanding of phase changeYezierski & Birk (2006); Sheehan(2010)Conservation Q4 Conservation of matterMulford & Robinson(2002)Composition of MatterQ1, Q2 Microscopic nature of atoms, elements,compounds andmixturesSanger (2000);Mulford & Robinson(2002)
Chemical Bonding
Q13, Q14,Q15, Q16,Q20Process andenergetics of bonding,effect of bond typeand structure of ioniccompoundsDeveloped by author;Peterson & Treagust (1989); Mulford &Robinson (2002);Jensen (unpublished)
Q17, Q18 Dynamic nature of equilibrium and theequilibrium constant Krause
et al 
. (2004);Adapted for Journal of Chemical Educationwebsite
Preservice teachers who will receive a qualification to teach chemistry at the end of their courseof study were the target group for this study. Preservice teachers were invited to come to adrop-in centre to complete the instrument. In order to improve the response rate, theinstrument was later administered during lecture and laboratory slots in preservice teachers’timetables for all four years of the courses. There were 274 such candidates identified in theuniversity and 212 of these took part in the study giving a response rate of 77%. Responseswere analysed using Predictive Analytics Software (PASW).
Results & Analysis
The results grouped by concept area are shown in Table 2. The overall performance of preservice chemistry teachers was poor with an average score of 30.8%. Over 80% of thepreservice teachers taking part in the study achieved less than 40% on the overall instrument.The results are similar for each section of the instrument as shown in Table 2, with averagescores < 50%.

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